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Archives: Cian’s Quest

Chapter 8: Attack on the Road

    As Ciprian and his companions rode away from the gate, Ciprian kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure the obnoxious wizard hadn’t followed them. He didn’t know how well he could handle it if she persisted. Fortunately, there was no sign of her.

    About twenty minutes into their trip, Ciprian had calmed enough to begin Cian’s riding lessons. The boy's horse was trailing behind his own, as far as its lead rope allowed it. “Cian, I want you to ride your horse up alongside mine. Just give him a little tap on the ribs with your heels,” Ciprian instructed.

    Carianna rode on the other side of the knight, a little farther back. She listened intently. Carianna could ride a horse, but not to any level of expertise that compared to a knight. So she simply listened in on the lesson...

    Cian spoke a bit nervously but did as Cip instructed, after a moment the Filly moved up alongside Cip’s own horse. The boy’s eyes were wide with excitement and he turned glancing in Cip’s direction speaking with all the warmth and joy of a child that had accomplished something for the first time.

    Riding a horse was never easy for Cian as his first few experiences had been painful falls, but this was different. Cip seemed to know what he was doing unlike the supposed horse masters Emir hired when the boy was under the slaver’s yoke.

    The ride was quiet but not smooth as the boy began to notice a soreness that developed into soreness that spread from his buttocks, to the lower part of his back to his thighs. It was the soreness and uncomfortable side-effect of a person that wasn’t used to riding as horseback riding was something Cian was not prone to do often. The boy almost fidgeted and then spoke as muscles that he wasn’t used to.

    “Uhhh ow...ow... Cip am I doing something wrong? My um...well...”, Cian glanced back at the Cari and towards the Kylia and spoke as low as he could where Cip could still hear as he was sure Cip could hear. “ ass is killing me. Could I...are we allowed to have cushions?”

    Kylia rode away with them knowing the woman now forced to travel alone or find others, though she did not care of the woman died on the road. The crows would not even touch her, hearing Cian she chuckled a little knowing he was going through the basics. “You’ll eventually get used to it, if you have an extra blanket then that can be made into a makeshift cushion. It won’t happen after a while, so bear with it and you’ll be fine.”

    Kylia would help him as much as possible, he was doing well for a first time rider though and she hoped that he would be able to keep up with them despite the pain. She was sitting up now and alert, before they left through the gates she had drank something that perked her up.

    Ciprian smiled a little at Cian. He barely remembered when riding was painful for him, he learned how to ride when he was six, before he even enrolled as a squire. “Well, you can use a blanket, but it might not help much, You’re still going to have to get used to it,” Cip replied.

    The knight looked over the mare Cian had chosen. “So, what are you going to call her?” the knight asked. “She’ll probably be with you for many years to come, so you should name her.”

    Cian glanced at the dark elf and smiled, then turned in Cip’s direction when the knight told him about the blanket. The boy would definitely use the blanket, he’d need to just for a little bit at least. When the subject of naming his horse came up, the former thief was totally dumbstruck. “Well...uh..I..I’ve never named anything before...”

    The child thought for a moment then spoke. “How about.. Reielle? What do you think? Is it a good name? I think she’ll like it.”

    The boy rubbed the horses neck affectionately, the animal whined almost in appreciation which brought a smile to the young squire’s face.

    Kylia smiled as she watched Cian and the horse, he reminded her of her first time riding Wildfyre. At least that rude woman was gone, now they could travel in peace. “That’s a beautiful name, fits her like a glove. Be sure to take good care of her, it helps with loyalty between horse and rider.” She laughed lightly, she looked to Ciprian afterwards and shook her head a little. She was bothered by something, it seemed important though she did not say it at the moment.

    Carianna seemed to be left to herself. She didn’t mind a lack of conversation towards her. It was actually kind of nice. Day in and day out, all she did was deal with people. Give arms to the poor, teach classes, lead prayers... There never was time for herself. Being selfish every once in a while was supposed to be a good thing, but Rada never blessed her with an opening for such things.

    Left to her own devices, the priestess hummed a quaint little melody, following the beat of her horse’s pace. While Carianna was not a world class singer, she did have a nice voice and was a popular choice for solos in the performance wing of the temple. A soothing soprano voice was hers to share on stage.

    Ciprian smiled. “It does fit,” the knight said. They had to continue with Cian’s lessons as they rode. He wanted to make good distance from Roid to make sure the wizardess couldn’t catch up. He’d teach Cian more when they camped. “I’m going to let you handle her now,” Ciprian said as he untied the lead rope from his saddle horn. “If you need to slow down, tug on the reins a little. Be gentle, just a small, slow tug to slow her. Give the reins a sharper tug to stop her, but be mindful of her comfort.”

    Ciprian had removed the lead rope and handed the end to Cian. “Just wrap it around your saddle horn for now, but don’t let it interfere with her movement.”

    Cian nodded and did as Cip instructed, the young boy spoke rather nervously but Reielle seemed to take everything in stride. After awhile he started to get the hang of it, the once thief now squire grinned broadly and spoke excitedly turning back to Carianna and then to Kylia almost unable to hold in his joy. “I’m doing it...she..she’s responding. This is so easy, I thought it was difficult before.. But...what do..I? I know they graze but what do horses eat besides grass and grain? What do I feed her? I mean what else?”

    It was a great responsibility, and he’d take it seriously. The boy wanted to take the best of care of his horse and was determined to see Reielle would have whatever she needed.

    Carianna left the explanations to Ciprian. Instead, she just offered words of encouragement. “I’ve seen many a student learning the mounted arts, but none quite as natural as you, Cian,” she said with a smile. So she hadn’t actually seen tons of people learning to ride, but he certainly picked up on it faster than she had.

    Kylia watched as Cian asked a flurry of questions and Ciprian tried to keep up, it was best that Ciprian did this part however. If needed she would lend a hand, but of course he needed to know this. “If you need a hand just ask, looks like Cian is a fast learner but he’s got a lot of questions. Just let me know when you need it, I’ll do my best.” She then rode on, they were headed into a dangerous spot. Chasing down a slaver was going to be difficult, perhaps this was what she needed to keep her skills honed.

    Ciprian smiled as the women encouraged Cian. “Well, while we’re on the road, we can let her graze for the most part, but she should get some grain too. Fruits and vegetables are good, so if you find any apples or carrots, she’ll love them.”

    Kylia reached into a saddle bag and pulled out a small bag, moving up to Cian she handed it to him. She had enough to spare that one, it would help him. “She should enjoy these, I bought them before I went to find you. I’m going to check on Carianna, she seems to be rather quiet.” She then moved back to where the priestess was.

    Cian accepted the apple gratefully and nodded towards Kylia. The boy genuinely was happy and more grateful than he’d ever been. A true and very real responsibility had been afforded him, for the first time in his life he had something to care for.

    The once thief looked over towards Cip and with the voice that betrayed how young he was the child beneath the thief and the years of hardship came out in an innocent question. “You you think when we find Linette that...she’ll like her? I mean maybe she’s ridden for so long she’s a near expert now...” Cian’s voice trailed off and he began to wonder, how was his sister? Was she well? Was she even alive? He hoped so, it was the only thing that kept him going in the hours and long jonts of the day.

    “I’m sure she will,” Ciprian smiled at Cian. The knight began to wonder the same things as his squire. The girl could be a slave as well, perhaps she’d never enjoyed any luxuries and was mistreated as badly as Cian was.

    Cip’s reassurance brightened Cian’s mood, the boy smiled a wide warm smile then affectionately rubbed his horse’s neck and spoke. “Yeah, she’s fine...she has to be. We’ll find her and bring Emir to justice and my sister and I will be a family again...and I’ll become a great knight someday just like you Cip.”

* * *

    Kylia dropped back alongside Carianna. Looking over to her she laughed a little. Her voice was good, given she could not carry a song. “Beautiful voice, I thought you could use some company.”

    “I’ve never really left the city before,” Carianna said, looking up to the sky. “I’m already praying to Rada that all those that depended on me will be alright...”

    Kylia listened to priestesses concerns, her concerns were touching and she remembered back when she first traveled. Some advice might be needed here, something she could give. “I was like that as a teenager, when my parents took me out for the first time. I was concerned for my friends and home, I know how you feel. They all are probably praying for a safe journey, for all of us. It’s been a while since I rode with others, I was hoping to find out a little more about you.” She smiled confidently as she spoke, she seemed to be concerned about the path ahead. They were heading to confront a slaver, who knows what he might try against them.

    “More about me?” Carianna itched the back of her head. No one really asked about her. She was always more concerned about others. “Well, I was an orphan. I had a rough life, fell in with some bad people, and the priesthood helped me out of it. So, I stayed along and now I help people who need it, since I was lucky enough to have someone do the same for me. I learned quick and now I teach the poor business knowledge or a trade that can earn them money. That’s me in the proverbial nutshell, I guess...”

    Kylia listened to Carianna, her story was easy to put that simply. She wished hers was that simple, but then it wasn’t. The priestess had a good life at the temple it seemed, nothing was ever truly simple. “I wish mine were that simple, you really led a rather lucky life. I was once a slave like Cian, though my case was to demons. I watched them kill my parents, and after a while they tried to make me one of their assassins. I learned being an apothecary from my mother, my father was a knight of Marmo. I escaped from them finally, but they left scars physically and mentally. Most of my former masters are dead, I killed them myself. I also make my trade hunting demons, that is when they do show up on Lodoss I could have given more detail, though that is as simple as I can put things.” She figured the priestess deserved to know who she was, up until now she had kept quiet and ran from her past. Maybe if her companions learned and understood, she could face it and finally bury it.

    Simple? Not really, Cari wanted to say. No parents, no place to stay. Those awful men who spent their nights coming to her boss...

    “I’m sorry...” Carianna could feel their sweat whenever she thought of it. “It sounds terrible.” She wasn’t sure if she was saying that to herself of Kylia. What do you say to that, anyway? Good question. If someone came up to her and listed the dark points of the priestess’ own life, she wouldn’t know what to say. One could gather all of the wisdom in the world and it would always boil down to this. There was no real way to answer it.

    She did notice something about herself. Carianna knew what it was like to be a slave. She had been there herself. Kylia seemed focused on all of the negative things in her past, but she mentioned nothing of positive accounts. Maybe that was why the priestess’ life seemed so much easier. Carianna centered around the higher points in her life. People just measure things differently, she thought to herself.

    “Can you remember any good moments?” Even in the hardest of times, laying in those dark rooms, there would always be something. One of the other girls used to draw pretty dresses when no one was around. When no more men came, all of the girls would whisper about wearing it to a ball. She wondered if Kylia had a similar experience. Maybe something about her parents? Carianna didn’t know what it was like to have them.

    Kylia thought and smiled, she focused on survival but in all that had she forgotten? Well something did come to mind, as small as it was she knew it was good. Maybe the point was she had focused too much on the past, and now she needed to open her eyes and start living life. For now the task was ahead of them, something they all felt was important. “Yeah, there was some good times.” He mother singing in the darkness, once they had been chained to their beds for the night. She had a beautiful voice, it seemed like so far away though. She still knew the song, though she could not sing like she could.

    Carianna seemed to understand more than she thought, perhaps everyone here had been touched by something similar. She could not help but lighten at the thought, and the tune that still carried on in her memory. In a moment of reflection she started to sing, in her best singing voice that she could muster. It was a song about the freedom of dreams from everyday life, something that she grew up with as a lullaby.

* * *

    The boy hummed slightly and it was in that lightened mood he almost didn’t spot the shot of red in the foliage off the side of the road. Cian’s old instincts as a thief went into play and he realized there were no birds chirping in the area. Something felt wrong. About the time the boy glanced to the other side of the road he noticed six well armed men rushing their flanks from the woods. Each were dressed in light leather armor and carried either swords or cudgels. “WATCH OUT!!! BANDITS!!”

    No sooner had he shouted than an arrow whizzed past him and the boy turned to see four other men emerge from the foliage before them similarly dressed and armed. The worst part was there was a sniper somewhere out there with bow and arrow who could pick them off at anytime.

    And the arrow would have landed on her, had she not dived off of her horse. Carianna tossed herself off, rolling in the dirt before swinging back up. She stayed crouched, looking around frantically. Why, when things were going so well, did human violence rear its ugly head?

    Carianna’s eye caught a man coming around the side towards Kylia. Without a better idea at the moment, she put herself in between the two. The bandit threw himself into an assault with his sword on the peaceful priestess. In a flash, they were locked. His sword bore down heavily on the priestess’ crossed arms, covered in bracers. It took all of her strength to hold the blade back. She pushed the blade aside and blocked another swing, tossing it off to the side as well. Finally, he thrust forward, but Carianna took his arm into hers, locking him in an odd position. Her hand slid under his at the sword’s handle, then, with a quick twist, their positions were exchanged. Now he had no weapon, and she did. Carianna swung into a defensive sword stance. “Logic would recommend surrender about now...”

    Kylia heard the Cian and looked more alert, Carianna’s quick action gave her time to draw some throwing knives. Even from the back of her moving horse she seemed to move naturally, she aimed for their legs as three knives flew towards one of the men up ahead. “Thanks, looks like they may not want to give up. Maybe they will soon, after some fight.”

    Kylia then nudged Wildfyre to move faster. Moving to stand on the saddle she leapt into the air while moving. Her knives had hit their mark, the ground in front of him and his foot. Smashing into the side of his neck with a hard palms strike, she brought a swift fist to the skull of the man beside him. She did not need to draw her weapons here, they were outnumbered but still had the edge. “Take care of the rest, I’ll go after any snipers they may have.” She then headed to the bush to locate and remove the snipers, using stealth and cover to her advantage.

    Ciprian dismounted as the attack began. He intended to defend Carianna and Cian. The sudden attack was odd for bandits, but he didn’t think for a moment that they were mere highwaymen. They had to be after Cian.

    Ciprian grabbed Cian by his new hardened leather armor and pulled him from the saddle to protect him from arrows. “Stay close to me!” Ciprian ordered.

    The knight drew his sword, and almost instantly, he was beset by the remaining four men. They were definitely after Cian. They were probably thugs hired by someone else stronger. Perhaps the sniper? Or someone unseen...

    Ciprian wanted to avoid killing the men for Carianna’s sake, but it couldn’t always be avoided. He didn’t want to arrest them and taken them back to Roid either, nor worry about a bunch of prisoners.

    A bandit with a club swung heavily at him, and Ciprian blocked with his bracer. The shock hurt his arm and the white lacquer on his armor chipped off, but he held it firm and kicked out at his attacker’s stomach. However, another bandit took advantage of the first attack and stabbed for Ciprian’s side, between his armor. Ciprian had kicked off the first bandit and tried to block the second with his sword, but the blade bite into his side. It pierced through the muscle wall, and as he pushed off the sword wielder, the blade tore through his side on its way out.

    Ciprian grit his teeth, forcing the pain away, then turned as he pushed back the sword wielding bandit. He stepped back to gain some distance, then struck back. The bandit parried, and thus began their duel.

    Cian stayed next to Ciprian as the knight fought against two attackers, they were definitely trying to get to him. The young boy reached into the usual place where he kept daggers and remembered he was a squire now, he had to obey his knight. Still, he couldn’t sit helplessly and watch two men on the person who’d taken him in and for all intents and purposes was a brother to him. A brother in spirit if not by blood.

    As Ciprian was locked in the battle with one bandit, the other whom he’d kicked in the stomach was back up on his feet. He came swinging wildly with his club but instantaneously flew back thirty feet from Ciprian.

    At this, the other man turned in surprise at seeing his comrade being blown back by some invisible force. Then, a soft voice of a woman rang through the air seemingly coming from all sides. “Mighty Sylph, spirit of the gentle wind, become a hail of arrows and pierce this servant of darkness.” the voice sang.

    The flabbergasted bandit was sent high into the air and landed not to far from his friend before him.

    “Violence is not way to solve things, especially when the reasons for such things are not explained before partaking in battle. Have you done badly to these people?” The girl asked behind Ciprian. She had seemed to appear from nowhere, although in some other sense seemed to have been there since the battle had commenced.

    The boy readied his weapons waiting for an opportunity to strike or even throw a dagger, but they were too close to Cip, a miss could mean he’d hit his friend. Then something strange happened, one bandit found himself flying backwards through the air and without warning a girl stood there....not just a girl but an elf. She was unlike Kylia and the shock of the girl’s sudden appearance took the boy off guard so suddenly he literally staggered back.

    Ciprian still dueled with the thug, but it was a short lived fight. The knight was far more experienced and better trained. He used his weight and relied on his armor to get passed the bandit’s block, running him through on his sword. With a yelp of pain, the bandit dropped his sword and grabbed the hilt of Ciprian’s, trying to push himself off the sword.

    Carianna wasn’t going to like it, but Ciprian ripped his blade from the bandit’s body as cleanly as he could. The bandit fell to his knees, grasping at his wound. Ciprian kicked the bandit’s sword out of reach, then turned to the woman who spoke behind him.

    He was pleasantly surprised to see a common elf. Had the situation been a little less hectic, he would have gladly laid on the charm. “Thank you, milady, but the fight’s not quite over yet!” Ciprian said, then turned away and ran to Carianna’s aid...

    The man swung around desperately, trying to catch Cari off-guard, but that guard was made of iron. Every move he made was blocked or dodged with the grace of a dance. The priestess swung the sword lightly, making sure she didn’t hit him. He isn’t falling for this, she thought. Plan 2! Carianna rolled backwards, and swiftly moved into a throw of his sword, which flew pretty close to him. When he recovered, she was praying.

    “Rada, holy essence of peace, draw out the will to fight from this misguided man!” she rambled off, throwing her hand in his direction. The air around him tensed up and the man simply fell down. As if brought by a fit of madness, he pushed himself away, dashing away as a coward might expect to.

    “Even bluffing can hurt,” she muttered, picking up the sword. She carefully covered it with grass. “May rust and abandonment dull your blade and end the suffering you cause...”

    Kylia came out of the brush with the unconscious sniper over her shoulder, she dropped him on the ground and looked to the others. Seeing a new face she was a little surprised, at least the fight was over. “Looks like they had a bowman in hiding, he’s just unconscious. I see we have some more company, did you help end this fight?” She asked curiously now, not sure whether she was friend or foe. Seeing the wounded bandits she knew it was unavoidable, she however did not draw blood on a single bandit.

    The child’s surprise the attack was over quickly and the half-dark elf stepped from the woods carrying the man whom, Cian supposed was the sniper. He was relieved that she was alright, a feeling of ease came over him briefly as he’d never admit it. But he rather liked the half-dark elf and was loathe to see her hurt. Cian’s feelings of relief soon changed to those of dread when he noticed the wound Cip had gained in the fight.

    Ciprian stopped in mid-stride as the bandit Carianna dueled ran off. The final one, who had been intent on attacking Cip, was long gone. Kylia emerged from the trees along the road with the sniper. So, the fight was over. Ciprian was relieved, but the two that got away could report back to Emir.

    “We’ll interrogate him, and the other one,” Ciprian said, jerking his thumb toward the one he near mortally wounded. “I think they were after Cian again.”

    The knight turned back to his elven benefactor and offered her a charming grin. He bowed, wincing as he was painfully reminded of the gash in his side. “I am Holy Knight of Valis, Ciprian Tremas,” Ciprian introduced himself. As he stood, he placed his hand on the wound. The blood was seeping into his white shirt, spreading outwards into the material.

    “It doesn’t surprise me, seems like we’ll be facing much more of this in the future. Let’s just hope they do not come back with more men.” Seeing Ciprian wounded, Kylia walked over to Wildfyre, opening the left saddlebag she looked for her supplies. Heading over to Ciprian afterwards, she had a clean cloth, some bandages, and vial of some herbal solution.

    “Kylia Shadowstorm, merchant and apothecary. Ciprian can you hold still a second, I’m going to take care of that wound for you. This may sting a little, but it’ll help.” She poured the solution onto the cloth, the solution smelled a little like alcohol and herbs. Folding it up into a thick pad, she was ready to apply it over the wound.

    Stepping over to Ciprian quickly he spoke, “Cip! You’re hurt. Damn, this all my fault. I’m becoming a liability to you. I should’ve helped out...I should’ve done something.” Cian wondered if his decision to ever become the knight’s squire was a wise one, he liked Cip, he liked all of them. Kylia, and Cari, they were fast growing on him. Cip was family and now that same adopted brother had gotten injured protecting him. He felt terrible.

    Ciprian winced as Kylia tended to him with the strong salve, but he showed little more reaction than that. The knight put his hand on his squire’s head. “Don’t you dare blame yourself, Cian,” Ciprian chastised. “I knew the risks when I decided to help you.”

    The knight turned his attention to the elf maiden who had yet to speak. “Milady?”

    “Sorry sir. It is an honor to come to face with someone seen in such great respect.” Amalthea responded, bowing. “I hope I didn’t startle you all when I came, so I am sorry for such an entrance. I am Amalthea, elven shamaness from the Forest of Mirrors. I have not been on my journey long, so you are the first adventurers I have encountered.” she explained.

    It wasn’t until then that Amalthea had noticed the wound. “I am glad that you have a healer within your party, for that wound looks bad. I’m sorry if I caused it, for maybe if hadn’t joined the fight, you would have been more concentrated. I ask for your forgiveness, Ciprian? May I call you that?” Amalthea asked nervously. “Forgive my actions, I am not used to human customs.” Amalthea explained.

    Carianna let Kylia do the healing, although, secretly, she wasn’t very happy about it. Unlike the others, she could not commit to serious battle. If she was not there, there would be little they would miss. That’s the way it looked to her. But Carianna brushed that from her mind. She knew she had skills to offer and a salve couldn’t match up to healing magic, if the need was great. Besides, she could save them countless conflicts.

    To the elf, Carianna wasn’t sure how to react. She had never even met one before. The most she knew were a few dwarves. As you don’t know human customs, the priestess thought, I don’t know elven ones. I should probably just stay back for now...

    Kylia finished up with Ciprian’s wound and looked to Amalthea, she was more than just a healer though. She turned to the bandit and patched him up, she would have felt better if Carianna took care of him. “I’m only really able to give limited healing, though I do what I can. How are you feeling now Ciprian, does the wound still hurt at all?”she asked Ciprian.

    “‘Tis an honor to meet you Amalthea, I am actually an apothecary and merchant,” Kylia replied to the shamaness. Now they had to wait for both men to recover, at least enough so they could be questioned. Heading over to the unconscious sniper, she tied his hands and feet before waving smelling salts under his nose.

    “Wake up, we have some questions for you...” She spoke with a stern look on here face, if they were sent by Emir then Jeriah had a partner.

    “Don’t worry, miss, I was wounded before you arrived,” Ciprian replied, wincing as Kylia administered to the gash. He would have replied to her, but she didn’t allow him to get a word in edgewise before walking away. “I am sorry to bring you into this mess. My squire, Cian, has a lot of enemies for a fourteen year old, I’m afraid. We’re trying to solve this problem,” Ciprian explained to Amalthea.

    One of the wounded bandits, the one run through sat up with a jolt. His stomach hurt like hell, mostly due to the sword wound, the rest due to his constant hunger. “Hey, I’ll talk if someone will get to healing my wound,” he grunted. The pain was almost unbearable, but he had to stay conscious. “I have no allegiance to the guy who hired me anyways, I never got paid.” Xian sighed as he put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding somewhat. This is so typical...every freaking time I get a job, some damn thing goes wrong and I end up shafted and falling into debt again...

    Kylia looked over to Xian, she wanted to do more but she was not a priestess. Looking to Carianna, and then back Xian she replied to him, “I did all that I could, though we do have a priestess who can do more. She’s over there, I’ll get her attention for you.” She then looked over to Carianna a for a second, as if she was hoping the priestess would help. It would save them the trouble, getting them the required information and maybe a new ally.

    “He’s in your hands now, we could use what information he has to offer. I can only do so much, I wish I could have done more,” Kylia spoke so they both could hear, the now conscious bandit was staying silent. She did not want to harm him any further, after all the poison she used to knock him out was still in his veins. Despite this predicament, she was out of anti-toxins as well.

    “Say no more,” Carianna said to the bandit. “Relax and let me take care of it...” Carianna knelt before him and held out her hands to the wound. “Holy Rada, great God of Wisdom, give the gift of kindness on this misguided soul...” Traditional white light fell from her hands, moving over his side. The light consumed the wound, stopping the bleeding. The pain dulled, then disappeared. “You should be alright...”

    Xian poked where the wound should have been. “Damn, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen priestly magic. Thank you priestess.” He gave her a polite nod and looked between Kylia and the knight. “Well, see I was hired by that guy,” he pointed to the sniper earnestly, “to capture a child known as Cian. I thought it was a joke at first, getting paid gold for capturing a child. But that guy seemed to be serious, and I was getting desperate for money I signed on. Damn foolish of me, I thought the kid might be alone, but then again, why would he enlist the help of all these others?”

    His stomach made a discomforting sound of hunger. “Ahh...well, you’ll excuse him, he’s mighty moody most of the time. Ahem, regardless, I guess greed motivated me, well, I’d like to think that greed motivated me, except that I’m not necessarily greedy if it was just me. I mean, I’ve really got no home, got no money, hell, even my backpack is empty. I work for the Mercenaries’ Guild, pay my dues, pay the inn where I live, and then, with what little I have left, I try to get by until my next job.” His stomach again interrupted, gurgling loudly. “Shaddup would ya!” he yelled at his stomach. “Anyways, that’s all the information I can give you at this point, but I’m sure he could tell you more.” He rose to his feet unsteadily. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to my debt and try to work it off. Perhaps the innkeeper has some work that I could do.”

    Xian moved over to his sword and picked it up. “Can’t forget you, now can I partner?”

    Cian listened to the fellow speak after Carianna healed him and the boy felt a hot flash of anger when the term “child” was used and he spoke a bit angrily, “I’m no child! Cip...I apologize.”

    The boy gave Xian a brief look of anger, but shook his head then stepped over to Kylia and spoke to her. “Kylia? Thanks for healing Cip. I...I wanted to thank you for helping to save me. We should talk sometime, when all this is over. You’re a silencer, I was once a thief I’ve so much to that’s if it’s fine with you of course.”

    The boy turned to walk away then rushed back over hugging the half dark elf unexpectedly, the boy’s embrace was brief but he spoke. “Th..thank you. I couldn’t help Cip but you did...and you’re safe too...” He let go of the demon hunter and wiped his eyes once again putting on the face and manner of a tough kid. “Sorry...lost discipline there for a moment it. It won’t happen again.” He’d never admit he was worried about her when she dashed off into the woods after the sniper, Emir had taken everyone from him. He didn’t want to loose anyone else. Not Cip, Cari or Kylia.

    Retrieving his sword, Xian sheathed it. He looked over to see Cian’s emotional outburst and smiled. “Damn,” he grunted with a smile on his face. He walked over towards Cian past Ciprian and the priestess. He stopped short and grabbed the sniper by the shirt and shook him violently. “Hey, tell you what.” He put his broad face against the sniper’s. “You start talking or I start planting you into the ground. I may not be a good soldier, or even a good swordsman, but I can put a fence post into the ground with my bare hands, no pre-dug hole required.” The muscular farm boy gave a broad grin.

    Galrath blinked slightly he felt sore, and jetting shards of pain ran up his neck to the back of his head where the half-elf wench had struck him. Everything happened so fast he’d seen her coming only at the last instant just before she struck.

    The hired killer spat on the ground and looked up at Xian balefully when he began threatening him. Deciding not to waste time he spoke in a voice calm as still waters. “Yer threats don’t mean nothing to me. I’ve been tortured by the best. Keshian nightblades in the Wildlands. You were hired to do a job, but since you’ve thrown your lot in with these people, count yourself fired and a dead man. There are a lot more out there more than you’ll ever see. Despite yer magics and yer elf will keep the boy from us. Numbers fool. We’ve got numbers, and we’re damn patient.”

    Cian listened intently then stepped forward and spoke. “You can be persuaded you know.”

    Galrath threw back his head and laughed then spoke, “By you boy? HA! Don’t make me laugh. Up to now you’ve been lucky, if you’d come along maybe we’d have lost you. But now...heh...”

    Persuade to talk? I can so do that! Xian, with a big grin on his face grabbed the man squarely by his shoulder. Not letting anyone guess as to what came next, Xian crushed his ham fisted fingers into the man’s shoulder and tore the whole arm clean off. Severed arm in hand, Xian continued with his large grin. “We can talk now, or I can go for the legs next...”

    While Ciprian waited for a response from the elf, his companions were busy taking care of the sniper and mercenary he’d run through. The knight turned to see that the wounded man, healed by Carianna, now seemed to want to help them and he did so by interrogating the sniper.

    Ciprian’s jaw dropped as he watched the mercenary viciously tear off the sniper’s arm. He was no stranger to blood and dismemberment, having fought in the war five years ago, but he had never seen a regular man tear off another’s with his bare hands.

    “By the name of Falis, you don’t have to dismember the bloody fool!” Ciprian shouted.

    Carianna gasped and turned away, covering her eyes. I need to get out of here, she thought. This was a mistake! With nothing she could do, she turned to run. It wasn’t the wisest decision, but it was all she could manage. The priestess of Rada, known for non-violence, bolted down back towards the city she came from. I don’t know if I can do this, her head screamed.

    She ran until her legs got tired and it seemed far away. The image of that man’s arm being ripped off replayed over and over again in her mind. She fell down on all fours, her stomach fighting with her heart for the most painful. Carianna threw her last meal over the side of the road. She coughed out the last bits, watching her vision blur through tears or disgust.

* * *

    Cian’s eyes bulged and he screamed out of shock not just form the brutality of the act, but the fool of a mercenary just killed their only lead. “NO you fool!” The boy turned away his face as he fought to keep his stomach down.

    The mercenary screamed as fountains of blood squirted from the wound and with wide eyes he looked up at Xian in shock. The shock proved to be worse as the man’s heart beat faster pumping more blood through his system and the fellow began to pale and go limp. It was a horribly sickening scene within moments the man would be dead. There were no healing magics or techniques that could’ve saved him from such a grievous wound not in the time that it would take for his blood to empty from his body.

    Seeing Xian’s terrible strength and what he did Kylia drew her daggers again, looking at him with a look of sickened disgust. Was he some kind of demon, one that could wear a humans flesh? Looking him in the eyes she spoke, with a rather flat tone, “What are you, demon? Why have you come to Lodoss? Is it to torment and kill people, answer me! Only a demon or berserker could ever have the strength to do that, he is no berserker I can see it in his eyes! Have you come after me, have they sent another to kill me?” She stood there in one spot, keeping her stomach in check. Her aim was not to be the attacker, but ready to defend herself if she was right. She prayed to Marfa in her mind she was not, as then the results would be terrible.

    Xian blinked. The idea never crossed his mind that he would have killed the man. Still holding the man up by his shirt, and the severed arm in the other hand, Xian tried to think how to remedy this situation. He turned to see if the priestess was still there, but she had vacated. Everyone looked like they were exceptionally queasy to some regard, save for Kylia who was fuming mad.

    “I’m not a demon,” Xian spat. “I’m just a farm boy, I ain’t never killed someone before, and I certainly didn’t mean to kill this guy. I was hoping just to intimidate him.”

    He pushed the arm against the wound, hoping it would stop the bleeding, which it didn’t. Xian watched as the lifeblood poured from the wound that he had caused. He furrowed his brows in worry. “Dammit, don’t die. You need to give the kid the information!” He shook the man in fury. “Give him the information, and then you can die.”

    Ciprian watched as Carianna ran by him. Where she was going, he didn’t know, but he didn’t think she could handle the violence. “Bloody...” Ciprian cursed again as he watched the priestess running. Looking back at the elf, he excused himself, “Pardon me, lady Amalthea.” He tossed a glance over his shoulder at the half-dark elf and his squire. “Kylia, watch out for Cian!” he shouted, then took off after Carianna.

    Amalthea had been frozen in shock after seeing Xian rip off the man’s arm. She didn’t know what the situation was, but it was too much for her. The flowing blood made bile rise in her throat and her knees started shaking. When Ciprian ran off, she silently backed away while the party was distracted by the dying man. The elf disappeared into the forest before anyone realized she was gone.

    Kylia caught Ciprian’s words as he left, he would reopen his wound at this rate. Walking over to Cian she looked at the boy, her face a mix of anger and shock. “Cian you going to be alright? I know he is no demon, but I was not sure about it. Let’s round up the other unconscious bandits, maybe they know something,” she spoke, trying to keep a calm face, though she was failing miserably at it. She could hear in her mind the screams of her mother as she died, the sight of her father being brutally slaughtered in front of their eyes. As she watched the man dying a tear fell down her cheek, and she clenched her fist in rage. Giving Xian a glance she spoke, knowing her initial thoughts were wrong.

    “Don’t do that again please, I almost was ready to attack you there. I..I...I’m sorry for threatening to kill you, I had to know... Your not one of those monsters, your only human.” She waited for both Xian and Cian to respond afterwards, she could not wake them up and bind their hands and feet at the same time.

    Xian looked over to Kylia and Cian. “You were threatening me?” He looked confused. “Oh, heh, that’s what that was, you calling me a demon and all...I thought you were joking or something.” He forgetfully scratched his head with the hand that still had the severed arm in his grip. “Oh well, yer forgiven then.”

    As Kylia approached the boy opened his eyes, he’d clenched them shut then turned and stepped over to her hugging her tightly. Despite everything he’d see in his short life of fourteen years, he’d never seen anything so brutal or senseless. The man had been hired to capture him but no one needed to suffer or die like that.

    The boy said nothing, but shook in shock holding onto the half-dark elf. Despite the training, the street-smart bravado and his training he was still a child and some things no child needed to see. In a weak voice, sick from the sight he’d witnessed he spoke, “ I’m not. I’ve never seen ...something so...that damn big fool...we could’ve questioned the fellow... Now all our leads are gone...p...please just keep him away from me...”

    Xian sighed. He moved away from Cian and Kylia, taking the dead body with him he lay the body down in the grass and sat beside him. “Dead men tell no tales,” he mumbled.

    He traced his memory as far as his limited intelligence could allow him. “Okay, in the guild, guy asks if I want to help him get a kid named Cian...” Xian continued to ponder whilst he talked. “Hired me and others, taken to this spot to ambush said child...” He scratched his head and continued to retrace his steps. “Okay, so then we attack the kid and his party, I get stabbed, guy gets taken out.” He bit his lip and struggled to concentrate on his steps that led him up to now. “Ok, I pass out, get healed, pull guy’s arm off. Kid gets sad.” He rubbed his knuckles into his head and growled. “So, kid’s sad...I’m the monster...Kesh...Keshian in the Wildlands!” he proclaimed loudly. He patted the corpse on the chest.

    Cian is in danger but he doesn’t like me, neither do the other three...and the elf, who knows what the elf thinks, Xian thought. But the guy said a name and a location, and he said that more people will come for the kid, which means that I can redeem myself in his eyes, and the others too.

    Kylia still was torn from the experience as she listened to Xian, her own pain had to be kept in check. “I cannot hold it against you, I just can’t bring myself to see another human die. I’ve seen too much. What is your name?” she replied to Xian who was obviously not very bright, she could not be angry with him for that. Cian’s tight hug and words gave her some strength, she felt like she could not be weak at a time like this. She too hated the suffering of others, but even she could not ignore this. Speaking to Cian he laid a hand on his shoulder, her voice was restrained as she choked back her own tears.

    “He didn’t mean to kill him Cian, look at him and think of how he feels knowing what he did. I’ll be around to protect you, like I could not protect my own parents... He stir...stirred up some bad memories, though’s not his fault. It’s not my fault...” She felt a little weak in the knees as she looked at the body and turned her face away, wishing she had not seen it too. It was not easy to forgive him like he had forgiven her, after all he did just kill a man by sheer accident.

    Kylia’s words brought the boy out of his shock, Cian looked at the half dark elf and nodded slowly. The boy pulled back from his hug and looked over at the large fellow, he had to consider. Maybe the big ox was that dumb. The boy shook his head in wonder then gave a small grin and spoke, “You’re right. I Guess he doesn’t know his own strength. Gods...I’d hate to see him when he’s angry. Maybe, maybe we can teach him to focus that strength... if so he’d be a great help to us on the road.” Being a squire was about being forgiving. He could do that. He had to try, he wanted to be a knight as great as Cip someday. And make his adopted brother proud, and Kylia and Cari too.

    Kylia dropped to her knees exhausted after Cian let go, looking at him she smiled as best she could. He had obviously understood what she was trying to say, though she didn’t know how to approach the situation. “Yes, that is true. If he could learn to focus that strength of his. I’ll be ok, I just need some rest soon.” She hoped he would travel with them, his strength would make him a reliable companion. He also could use friends, and she was sure they could all get to understand him.

* * *

    He had a hard time catching up to the priestesses. The weight of his armor and the cut in his side left him at a fast jog, but it was enough to keep Cari in sight. When the priestess finally stopped and retched on the side of the road, Ciprian caught up to her.

    “Cari!” he called as he jogged up to her side. His wound stung, and a fresh flow of blood was saturating his shirt. He bent down and laid a hand on her shoulder, suddenly feeling lightheaded. He hadn’t lost a lot of blood, but it was enough to make his head swim after exerting himself.

    The tears fell freely over the vomit. She could barely breathe. The image of that man’s arm being torn off flew through her mind over and over again. “I...” she sputtered out, leaning over to his shin, “...I don’t think... I can... do this...” Her body shook. “How... Ho... could he...?” She shook her head slowly, unable to look up.

    Ciprian took a handkerchief from under his chest plate and crouched down beside Carianna with some effort. He pulled the priestess up by her shoulders, then handed her the cloth to clean her face. He couldn’t think of what to say, he was still shocked by Xian’s actions too. “I’m sorry I brought you into this,” he finally spoke.

    “Its not...” she muttered, taking the handkerchief. “...your fault,” she finished in between her sobs. When she saw, however, how he struggled against his wound, the memory of that arm fell away. “Ohh... So selfish of me...” she said through the tears she reigned in. The priestess coughed down her own sorrow immediately. “Let me take care of this...”

    The pale-faced girl swallowed hard and closed her eyes. It has so hard to concentrate like this. “Oh.. Ra-Rada... Please re-move the... pain of this man and prote-ct him from the fates you sh-showed me minutes...before...” As before, the healing light came over his wound, but it appeared different than before. The light shifted from being brighter than her normal healing and dull, as if the heart of the magic was clearly beating. Carianna was quickly becoming light-headed after the healings and the shocks. She leaned on his side. “I... should give that... man some rites or something...” She raised the handkerchief weakly to his face and wiped away the sweat. “Thank you...”

    Ciprian supported Cari against his arm. He didn’t want to ask her to heal him, but he was grateful she did. “Don’t mention it. I can’t leave you out here alone,” he said softly, with a weak smile. After seeing what Xian did, he didn’t exactly feel like grinning, even if he had a pretty priestess in his arms. What were they going to do with the man? He seemed ready to switch sides and help them, but he didn’t think anyone exactly wanted to be around him after seeing the man rip another’s arm off.

    “We should... get back. That man deserves some sort of rites... I hope the afterlife is better to him than life was...” Carianna looked to him to lead them back, obviously uncomfortable to start walking herself. He was a knight and had the strength she relied on.

    Ciprian stood, helping Carianna up with him. She covered quite a good bit of distance trying to run away, so their companions were out of sight, around a bend in the road. When Cari was ready, Cip started walking at a slow pace with his arm around her shoulder for comfort and support. “You know, it’s not going to be easy on the road ahead,” Ciprian started to speak, “but we’re both here for Cian. Without us, he’d be dead. This is no adventure for fame and glory that we can turn back at any time with. If things get hard, just remember that it’s about Cian, not us.”

    “I know... My teacher would say that a rough road teaches you more with every bump,” she recited sadly. “I don’t know what I learned on this bump. Some priestess of wisdom, huh?” Carianna sighed, pulling her head up to look down the road. “Do you think this can end well?”

    Ciprian smiled sardonically at Carianna’s comments. “Ha, I don’t know what we can learn here. Maybe never underestimate farmboys,” Ciprian commented, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s going to be a hard road, but I think we’ll make it. Falis has smiled on us thus far.”

    Carianna gave as much of a smile as she could manage as she wiped away the last of her tears on her baggy sleeve. “Then I think so too,” she whispered. The two came around the bend together, with the priestess’ hand on his. Her cheeks were still red from crying. As they approached, she held his handkerchief back to him. “I need to pray for that man,” she said. “Thanks for your handkerchief... and your shoulder.”

    “You are very welcome,” Ciprian replied as he looked down at Cari with the most charming smile he could muster. He took back his handkerchief and tucked it back behind his chestplate.

    As Ciprian and Carianna returned, the knight noticed the elf was gone, but Xian was digging a grave and Kylia and Cian were nearby. “We’re back,” he announced. “I guess the elf couldn’t take it either...” He added, looking about for the woman.

* * *

    Xian stood up beside the corpse. Drawing his sword, he began to dig a hole with it beside the corpse. Due to his strong muscular strength and years cultivating the land, the large farm boy cut away the earth in blocks and removed them by hand. Since he had the corpse on hand, it was easy enough to measure how big the hole needed to be.

    Carianna left the safety of Ciprian’s side to move towards Xian. Determination was clear on her face, as if it took effort just to get close to him. Instead of coming into contact with him, however, she moved to the dismembered body of the bandit. With sorrow in her face, she knelt at the dead man’s side and began to pray. With loving care, she blessed his body with the last rites. They served to purify his mind and heart in preparation for his ascension. “May your soul skim the crystal lakes and see the shining sun of the next world... Rest bless thy form... May Rada cradle you in kindness and love.”

    Kylia saw Ciprian and Carianna return but the elven woman was nowhere to be seen, she figured that in the confusion she had slipped away. She saw Xian digging the grave for the bandit, even if he was the enemy he deserved peace in the end. “Good to see you two have returned, things have settled down here. I’ll be all right in a day or so, I just need some rest,” she replied to Ciprian, as Carianna went and gave the dead man his last rites. She stood up unsteadily and made her way to Wildfyre, who was close by grazing. Using her horse as support she smiled, at least in this dark moment there was something positive insight to be gained.

    After the rites were said, Xian placed the body into the grave but stopped before placing the dirt on him. With a rare moment of genius, Xian spoke up. “Shouldn’t we, you know, search his body for clues? Maybe he has a note or a map of some sort,” Xian cited loud enough so that they could hear him. “Maybe...if we’re lucky...” Xian trailed off into a mumble. They were all probably still mad at him. “I’ll just be quiet now...” He sighed heavily.

    Cian had gotten over the initial shock of the maiming, the man was dead and that was that, the boy stepped over and looked at the grave as Cari prayed then stepped back in silence. He was glad the priestess was alright, he wanted to speak with her but as she was in the midst of prayers it would’ve been the height of bad manners to do so. He’d speak with her later when they were at rest.

    When Xian spoke, Cian turned with a far kinder tone than he’d used with the big man before and spoke, “No need, Emir wouldn’t have given them chance to keep any type of map or something that could be tied to him. He’s not the type to leave traces, he keeps moving constantly. He’s a nomad and that’s one reason why it’s so difficult to keep up with him. It’s his greatest strength. It’s hard to bring a slaver to justice when they keep moving constantly to throw you off.”

    Kylia looked shaky and the boy stepped over to the half dark elf and spoke looking concerned. “You okay? You look tired Kylia...”

    Carianna approached the grave and gathered some dust in her hands. She stood over the shallow grave solemnly. “With this earth, I cast thee off to the next realm. Leave such a shallow form and allow it to return to nature.” Slowly, she poured the dust over him, while speaking. “Take thy heart and soul into the light of eternal day...” The priestess turned to Xian. “You may bury him now...”

    Kylia looked to Cian as he spoke and smiled a little, she wanted to pass off she was alright but that would be lying. A bad thing to do, she would not feel right about it. “I am quite tired, it’s nothing to worry about though. I’m not as strong as I want to be inside Cian, your concern is well placed. Thank you, I can keep going today for now.”

    Kylia watched as Carianna finished the last rites, now that Xian could bury the man she bowed her head in respect to the fallen enemy. Emir would be difficult to track, perhaps they would need more gold than what they had at current.

    Ciprian stood by, patiently watching over the camp. Agel, who had been watching the entire affair, plodded over to his master from the side of the road where the horses had wandered too after seeing the violence. The bay warhorse nuzzled Ciprian’s side, as if he he were checking the now healed wound. The blood stain was still on his shirt to be smelt. The knight reached up absently to scratch the stallion’s mane.

    Now what do we do with him? Ciprian thought, watching Xian. He seems like an honest man, if not dense. His actions have put us all ill at ease, but he seems to have not known better. Can we trust him? I doubt he would betray us, but what if he does something foolish? Ciprian decided he would speak to Xian after he finished burying the sniper.

    Xian buried the sniper with ease. There was little work involved other than moving the body into the grave and piling the dirt on him. He packed it down shortly after. The entire process just made Xian hungrier and sweatier. After the work was done, Xian sat near the grave and hung his head. He was tired, weakened by hunger, and disapproved of by the rest.

    Once Xian had finished and sat back, Ciprian left his horse and crossed the road to meet the mercenary. The knight crouched down in front of Xian.

    “So, what’s your name?” Ciprian asked.

    “Xian,” he retorted. “I have no last name, so don’t bother askin’. I’m just Xian. Used to be a farmer, worked the farm for a long time, after that joined the war, got thrown off the ship in a storm, washed back up in Valis, became a mercenary, which brings us to here.” He sighed. “‘nuff information for your liking?”

    Ciprian chuckled. At least he didn’t have to probe any further. “Well, Xian, since you helped, or at least tried, I’ll let you go back to Roid, or you can travel with us. Our journey ahead is treacherous and we will undoubtedly be hunted, but we could use another sword.”

    “It doesn’t seem like your priestess agrees with taking me along.” Xian stated. “I’ll do what I can though. While my sword may not be in the greatest of conditions, I’ll do my best not to dissa...dissip...not to make myself a burden.”

    “Well, we’ll work it out with her. I’m Ciprian Tremas, a holy knight of Valis,” the knight replied and offered his hand to Xian to help the mercenary to his feet.

    Carianna turned and walked away from the others at the mention of using another sword. I should have known the world would be like this, she thought to herself. Why am I so surprised? She gathered her horse and, after three attempts, managed to get atop it. Still awkward on the steed, just simply waited for the others to move out. There was a lot to think and pray about now...

    As Carianna prepared to leave as well, Cian gave Kylia a slight nod then stepped over to the priestess. The boy’s gray eyes narrowed in deep concern and he spoke softly stepping over to her. “Cari? I...I want you to know how much I appreciate all you’re going through for me. I’ve been living, I had been living a hard way most a of my life, a slave and a thief, but I’ve never seen anything like what just happened.” He didn’t know how to put his thoughts into words but tried his best, “I...don’t know much about gods, or goddesses, but I think Rada gained one heck of a priestess when you came into your calling. That man would’ve dragged me back to Emir or worse...and you prayed for him for his welfare. I don’t understand fully, but I think you’re a wonderful person for doing so. I...did that sound silly? I’m...I’m talking too much time to get going.” The boy turned to leave hoping he’d at least given her some encouragement.

    “Thank you,” she said after a moment. It was kind of him to say that, despite what the other priests of Rada thought of her battle-ready philosophy. “I only wonder if Rada agrees...” Carianna sighed, rubbing her bracers. They still felt warm from the fight. Did Rada agree with her defensive disarming actions? Were they too close to fighting? Maybe...

    Carianna shrugged her shoulders. “Many do not share my idea of being involved with combat at all. There are some that say that the wisest can avoid any battle and Rada, the wisest of all, doesn’t appreciate any who say otherwise. Then again, Rada never wrote us a book to read.” The priestess scratched her head while firmly holding onto her borrowed steed. “I try not to take stock in people who say they know what Gods think, though.”

    Kylia had finished securing all her gear that may have come loose in the fight, afterwards she got onto her horse and looked to the current discussion. “Isn’t fighting to disarm and disable an opponent a non-violent form of combat, that is what I was taught by my father. I agree with your tactics Carianna, you did well in this battle.” She gave her opinion and then watched Ciprian and Xian from the roadside, she did not want to interrupt their little conversation. Hoping that they had no more surprises for today she watched the others, not ignoring behind her as she listened for anymore potential trouble.

    “Well, thank you,” Carianna replied for a lack of anything else to say. At first, she thought of saying the same to her, but, truth be told, she hadn’t seen what Kylia had done, if anything at all. Speak your mind, she told herself. “Well, I didn’t get the chance to see you at work, but I’m sure you did well too.”

* * *

    Xian took Ciprian’s hand to get helped up. It seemed that it would be more redeeming in Cian’s eyes if he came along, thus erasing the mistake he made earlier. “Nice to meet you Ciprian.” Catching the women’s small conversation, Xian found it better not to comment any more. The priests and priestesses of Rada must lead extremely sheltered lives. I don’t think every single thing in this world could be solved without violence.

    While still holding onto Xian’s hand, Ciprian gave it a firm shake. “Welcome to our little adventure then,” the knight said, then withdrew his hand. “I’ll hire you as a mercenary, and I could afford to better equip you in the next town. I can’t pay you more than thirty gold a day, plus the new equipment, but when the mission is complete, I can pay twenty Raidens when we return to Roid.”

    “That sounds a little excessive.” Xian stated bluntly. “Thirty gold a day?” he shook his head. “Well, if that’s your deal, than I won’t argue against it. But even half of that would have sufficed.”

    Ciprian frowned. “I thought about fifty was the going rate for most mercenaries...” the knight murmured. “Ah well, consider yourself lucky. As a knight, my family is considered low nobility, so we have plenty of money.” He grinned, then turned and motioned for Xian to follow him. “Let’s meet your new company.”

    “If you say so.” Xian muttered under his breath. “Must be nice to actually have money. Betcha never gone hungry for too long.”

    Ciprian suddenly realized how rude his comments must have sounded to someone who never had much. “Well, let’s get out of here,” Ciprian announced, then turned away to go to his horse.

* * *

    The boy looked at the priestess and spoke with that spark of the young the thief he’d once been when they first met, his eyes gleaming with admiration for her and just a hint of mischievousness that all young boys had. “Well I think Rada made a damn good choice... uh sorry about the language. I’m still trying to learn proper manners for a squire.”

    The boy turned and gave Kylia a nod when the half-elf approached and then he turned back towards Cari and spoke with an earnest warm tone to his voice. “Could you do a favor for me Cari? Would you...teach me the proper way to pray for my sister. I mean, do you think Rada would mind protecting her? I...I’d be really grateful...”

    Carianna smiled. That was awfully sweet of him. “The proper way to pray? Well, you can try all of the rituals that you want, but I am almost certain that Rada puts more merit into anything that comes straight from your heart.” How was one to respond to that? After all, there were traditions, but that wasn’t how you had to pray. At least, not in her temple. “People pray however they can. When I was younger, I used to write letters.” Cian must have thought that was odd. “Yep. When I was too shy, I would write in my diary to him. Then, I would whisper words to him before I went to sleep. For a while, I even wrote songs or danced to pray. Now, I would sit at a window sill and look into the sky when I talk to him. Everyone feels divine presences in different ways, so I think there really isn’t a right way. I don’t really know if that helps, but if you want to join me tonight, you are certainly welcome...”

    Carianna’s explanation did more for him than anything, the boy smiled and spoke. “That cleared up a lot of questions I had, I think I understand now. I’ll pray to Rada to take care of Linette. I wonder if she even remembers me, or our parents?” He turned in Cip’s direction where the knight spoke with the large mercenary, Xian and spoke again turning back to face Cari. “I can tell don’t want Cip to worry, but sometimes...I...I’m so scared that when I find her, she...she won’t remember me. But she should. I mean if she still has her locket, I have mine...she’s got to remember. At least I hope so.”

    It was a terrible story, to be sure. It was this that Rada hated. Cruelty of kin. “Well, let us hope it is not the case.” She wouldn’t reassure him that Rada would do everything for them, because that wasn’t how it worked. Throwing gods in the faces of people never worked.

    Cian smiled, Cari always seemed to know what to say to cheer him up or reassure him. The boy gave her the briefest of bows and spoke, “You know. I like you, you may not think you’re a great priestess but I think you’re one of the best. You don’t act all stuffy or far off like most holy people do. You talk to a person plain and simple, and you don’t hide the truth or try to shelter it. Thanks Cari.”

    With a smile he offered his arm to the young woman and spoke, “Well if I’m going to learn to be chivalrous and all that as a squire then maybe I should start now. Heh...May I have the honor of escorting you to join the others milady?”

    The gray eyed youth’s grin was a mile wide and he awaited his companion’s reply, as it looked like Cip was finishing up his discussion with their giant newcomer.

    “Well, I’m supposed to avoid the luxuries of life, such as being escorted by such a handsome man as you, but, I think Rada would understand my ‘wavering’ faith,” Carianna replied with a smile as she took his hand. In the spirit of things, she attempted to act more ladylike. She stood up tall and held his hand softly. “Lead on, noble sir!”

    Cian smiled and led Cari back over to Cip and their new large companion. The boy stepped over and with all the etiquette he could muster he made sure after escorting her, smiled and gave her a small bow then spoke, “A pleasure milady.” He couldn’t help a chuckle, when they had down time he had to ask Cip about all the pomp and fuss he’d heard about in courtly matters. The young ex thief wanted to know if everything he’d heard about was true, not that he relished that sort of thing. Cian truly didn’t, but from everything he’d seen and heard in his short life he thought it was funny how differently people acted in certain circumstances. To him it was a curious thing.

    Kylia finished up with reorganizing her stuff, she looked to see Xian and Ciprian had finished up their discussion. Making her way to other side of the road, she held onto the saddle. “I see your business is concluded, I thought it would be easier to come to you guys. I’ll wait for the others, and glad to have you with us.”

    Once the women and Cian were mounted, Ciprian began to walk, leading his warhorse behind him. He didn’t want to ride while Xian had to walk, but the mercenary was far too large to share the smaller horses, and Agel couldn’t carry both men.

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